Kings clash over trademark; bond over beers
California brewer reaches out to startup in GR to talk shop, naming rights.
Not even a week after being named one of Start Garden’s winning 100 Ideas, Kings Brewing Company hit a bump in the road.
The local African-American-owned brewery concept, fronted by Terry Rostic and Jamaal Ewing, drew the attention of owners of another Kings Brewing Company in Rancho Cucamonga, California.
Jeremiah Cooper, the California brewery’s co-founder and president, said he first found out about Kings Brewing Grand Rapids from fans who brought the Business Journal’s reporting to his attention.
Cooper told the Business Journal that even though he wanted to protect his trademark, he was determined not to make a big deal of it. He, in fact, had been on the receiving end of trademark disputes in the past.
Recently, Kings Brewing California also came under fire from Sloop Brewing in New York over the trademark of the name “Juice Bomb IPA.”
“We got a call that they were going to send a cease and desist (letter),” Cooper said. “We had a beer named Juice Bomb. They said we needed to change it, so we changed it to Juicy B. They haven’t said anything since.”
Cooper said most times when the company faces trademark issues, they don’t amount to any heavy legal action — just a simple phone call and a request to change the name slightly.
“I wanted to approach (Rostic and Ewing) the same way — ‘Hey, don’t take this in the wrong way. Let’s just have a conversation,’” he said.
Rostic said Cooper told him they were fine to use the name Kings Brewing if they were to remain confined to Michigan, but if they were to branch out in the future, it would be in both of their interests if Kings Brewing in Grand Rapids changed its name to something like “Kings Brewing and Distillery.”
But Joe Infante, principal with Miller Canfield, discouraged such a practice because it could limit the business’s future growth.
As an attorney covering commercial litigation and alcoholic beverage regulation, Infante said he is no stranger to trademark disputes in the brewing industry. As of press time, he was not involved in the Kings Brewery dispute but was helping resolve a separate trademark dispute between two local breweries.
Infante added Kings Brewing California was legally obligated to contact Rostic. Otherwise, the company would risk losing its trademark.
“It’s a matter of protecting your trademark,” he said. “You can’t just let it go. You don’t have to send them a cease and desist. You can just reach out and say, ‘Hey you can’t use this.’”
Usually, startup companies are safe if they type their name into the United States Patent and Trademark Office, but Infante added a simple Google search is the easiest way to avoid potentially violating someone’s trademark.
“It takes five minutes to do, and you can save yourself some trouble,” he said.
Ewing said he was able to register "Kings Brewing Company, LLC" in the state of Michigan, and when he searched the trademark through USPTO, there was no occurrence of a "Kings Brewing Company" registered.
Even though Cooper told Rostic and Ewing they’re fine to continue using Kings Brewing if they change it slightly, the two decided it would be best to start fresh with a new name. Rostic also said he’s flirting with the idea of hosting a naming competition for residents and other brewery owners to submit their ideas.
“I want to make it a community effort, where people have a sense of pride,” Rostic said. “How cool would it be if your name is selected and voted on? We could name a beer after you if it wins.”
Rostic said he and Cooper’s conversation ended up being productive, although in hindsight, he realized a simple Google search would have saved them some trouble. But based on their conversations, the two “kings” may collaborate on new recipes in the future.
“It actually turned out to be a blessing in disguise,” Rostic said. “I got to meet the guy from Kings and talk about collaborating in the future.”
Cooper said he also was eager to share his personal experiences as a business owner and help Rostic as he got started on his new venture. He said he warned Rostic if he didn’t get his name trademarked, it could leave the door open to fraudsters taking his name, getting it trademarked and trying to sell the trademark back to him.
“These are just things I’ve learned day by day, being a young business owner and not knowing any better,” Cooper said. “Terry was a great guy. I told him, ‘Reach out to me, and when you get open, I’ll fly out there and make a beer with you.’”